Gordon Bennett

      Brought forward from Escapes

      Tony - >Anne,
      Lt.-General H. Gordon Bennet, commander of the AIF in Malaya, wrote a
      book called "Why Singapore Fell" which was published in 1944. I don't
      have a copy, so can't guarantee that it covers his escape.

      Anne - >Tony writes : "Lt.-General H. Gordon Bennet, commander of the AIF in Malaya, wrote a book called "Why Singapore Fell" which was published in 1944. I don't have a copy, so can't guarantee that it covers his escape."

      Hmmmmm - Bennet writes his account before General Percival and others can tell their side of the story. This will probably have to be read in conjunction with other accounts to get a perspective. I knew that it would save time and hard work if someone else know the story !!

      Ron - >Anne, I have a book "Singapore is Silent" by George Weller.
      He briefly covers Bennett's escape as below:

      "Gordon Bennettt escaped two hours after the surrender of Singapore. His aide, captain Gordon Walker, swam out from the water front to a sampan, rowed it ashore, and with several other officers started down the strait. They got aboard a junk crowded with British officers and loaded with antiaircraft shells, slipped past the silent guns of Blakang Mati, and so southward for five days. Walker said: "All of us were in a bad state of nerves and everyone wanted to run the boat. It was hell. After twenty-four hours we began to eat, and took a cup of water a day. a handful of rice and some carefully divided cubes of pineapple and bully beef." From the junk the Bennett party transferred to the 'Tern', one of those 30-foot police launches formerly in the Singapore harbor service, and went through Sumatra by way of Jambi, Muaratebo, and Padang to Java and safety."

      Hope this helps.

      Peter Stubbs - General H. Gordon Bennett covers his escape in Chapter 14 of his book. In the chapter has says, "I, personally had made this decision some time previously, having decided that i would not fall into Japanese hands.". Bennett and his companions stole a sampan, and with eight Planters serving with the Malay Volunteer Forces, who came upon them at the moment of escape, set sail. They came upon a larger boat, a tongkan, loaded with ammunition, and with two other escapees and a crew of three on it, and took that over. The boat's owner was paid $150 Straits Dollars to take them to Sumatra. By this time there were nineteen escapees on the tongkang.

      On the 21st February, Bennett and three companions transferred to the 'Tern' a Singapore Harbour board launch which they had seen and hailed. The escapees remaining in the tongkan later arrived at Rengat. Bennett and his companions made the numbers in the launch up to twenty-one. On the evening of the 21st, Bennett left the launch at Djambi and was provided with land transport by a Dutch official. On the 24th, Bennett was at Padang, where he met up with Brigadier Paris of 12th Indian Brigade. During the evening he had a telephone conversation with General Wavell, and discussed the stragglers and deserters in Singapore during the last days before capitulation. On the morning of the 25th, a Catalina took Bennett to Batavia, from where he was driven to Bandoeng. The next day, he went to the port of Tjilatjup with a party of British officers and the wife of one of them. At dawn on the 27th, Bennett was flown out to Broome in Australia.

      Bennett never again was given a fighting command, and there was, and still is controversy over his escape.

      The Pacific Bookhouse in Australia is a good source of books covering the war. That is where I obtained my copy of Gordon Bennett's book, and a couple of other out of print ones.. Their prices are reasonable and delivery to the UK is quick. Point your browsers at:-

      Anne - Peter Stubbs said : "Bennett never again was given a fighting command, and there was, and still is controversy over his escape."

      What happened to Bennett afterwards ? Was there ever an enquiry ? What would be interesting to find out is what others said about Bennett's escape - his senior and fellow officers and his men. The fundamental issue here is whether a senior officers duty is to his men and to his country or to himself. It's one thing for ordinary young men to escape, that's not an issue at all, and good for them. But a commander who has a responsibility to others has a duty to serve. If a General leaves a battlefield and abandons his men to a cruel fate it says something. Having command implies certain moral obligations. What would be valuable would be if someone could look into the original military archive and see what was said by others, not just by Bennett himself. The tragedy is that while Bennett was doing whatever in the relative comfort of Australia, his men were suffering and dying in camps, and many would never return.

      Thanks for all the information - maybe someone should follow this one on....it shouldn't be too difficult, I suspect, as most likely there would have been an enquiry of some sort. In the circumstances the authorities weren't going to do anything that might affect public morale but the fundamental issues remain. Did Bennett greet the surviving POWs when they came back ?

      Janet Uhr - >Anne: Perhaps you might read Brett Lodge: The Fall of General Gordon Bennet (1986) which covers pretty well all of your concerns: including the two inquiries; there's a single chapter too, in ed David Horner, The Commanders.

      Stuart - >Anne, I suspect the answer will depend on who you ask. It will be as contentious as the claim about 'hundreds of Australian deserters'. Some will leap to GB's defence, others to the attack.

      Anyway, from ~http://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au/~rmallett/Generals/bennett.html

      "The response to Bennett's escape was mixed. Many senior officers, including Sturdee, felt that Bennett had deserted his men. But Prime Minister John Curtin issued a statement that read:

      I desire to inform the nation that we are proud to pay tribute to the efficiency, gallantry and devotion of our forces throughout the struggle. We have expressed to Major General Bennett our confidence in him. His leadership and conduct were in complete conformity with his duty to the men under his command and to his country. He remained with his men until the end, completed all formalities in connection with the surrender, and then took the opportunity and risk of escaping.

      While Bennett may not have had many answers to the Japanese tactics, he did compile notes on the subject, and eventually published an entire manual that was circulated with the Australian Army at large.

      On 7 April 1942, Bennett was promoted to lieutenant general and given command of III Corps in Perth, responsible for guarding Western Australia. Initially this was a key post but it gradually became a backwater. On being informed by General T. A. Blamey that his chances of another active command were slim, a bitterly disappointed Bennett transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 9 May 1944.

      Bennett published his own account of the campaign in Malaya later in the year in his book Why Singapore Fell. When the war ended, Percival, released from captivity, sent a letter to Blamey accusing Bennett of relinquishing his command without permission. Instead of just tearing it up, Blamey convened a court of enquiry under Major General V. P. H. Stanke, who found that Bennett was not justified in handing over his command, or in leaving Singapore. A storm of protest erupted from men of the 8th Division, who saw their own performance on trial as well, so on 17 November 1945, Prime Minister J. B. Chifley appointed a Royal Commission under Justice G. Ligertwood to report on the circumstances surrounding Bennett's escape. The commissioner concluded that Bennett had not been a prisoner of war at the time and was under orders to surrender. Very few legal or military experts would agree with this conclusion."

      Ron - In Peter Elphick's book 'Singapore the Pregnable Fortress', there is a large section dealing with Bennett and the AIF.

      In a letter to from Percival to Heath after the war, Percival wrote:

      "From what I have since heard I believe that Gordon Bennett painted a very false picture, both to you and me, of the situation on his front and the state of his troops. he was a very vain and self-centred man and I believe now, though I did not fully realise it at the time, that from the time he left Segamat he had one object in mind. You can guess what I mean. I believe that, if the Australians had been properly led, they would have risen to the occasion even at the eleventh hour."

      When it came to leading men, Percival was not an adventurer.
      There were many instances when he and Bennett fell out, two very different characters, one very cavalier and the other too thoughtful, not a very good combination when trying to unit forces to repel aggression.

      Stuart - >Ron, I get the impression that Peter Elphick is not seen as a perfect source in some quarters...see Lynette Silver (of Sandakan fame) at http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/specials/noprisoners/viewpoints/silver.htm

      and the interview with Elphick at

      Anne - Thank you for that. Much of this comes from the the generalist website so it needs to be read with a bit of analysis.

      Of course Curtin would make a speech exonerating Bennett so soon after the events. The country was facing possible invasion and the last thing the government needed was controversy. Public statements like this are so easily manipulated, especially in a time of war. People needed a heroic image even if the reality was questionable. Given the debacle of Singapore and the Australian role, there was no way Curtin was going to stir up trouble.

      As for the statement "When the war ended, Percival, released from captivity, sent a letter to Blamey accusing Bennett of relinquishing his command without permission. Instead of just tearing it up, Blamey convened a court of enquiry" . Percival was the commander of the entire Singapore campaign and was absolutely entitled to make a report - who on earth would suggest that his report be "torn up" ? This is appalling - were these Bennetts' words ? If it was it says a lot about his sense of ethics. Percival was entitled to an opinion.

      Similarly the reported response of the 8th Division. Why would an enquiry about Bennetts escape be seen as a criticism of the men ? We need to know what was actually said in the enquiry and how it was presented before we can take that for granted. The situation was so complex that any discussion would raise sensitivities, which would deflect from the actual detail of Bennett's behaviour. As we have seen from the websites supposedly about Elphick, it's easy to divert from the basic issue since the situation was so complex. Whether other Australians deserted or not, (and I hardly blame them) should their commander have done so too ? Naturally Australians will be touchy on the issue but that shouldn't be turned into a smokescreen for Bennett. It isn't fair on the men, either.

      Even based on the information on the website it seems that Bennett already had a reputation for disloyalty, writiing criticism of the Army in the press. Interestingly I have a book "Why Singapore Fell" by Dorothy Crisp. The book is so unmitigatingly racist that it's painful to read. It attacks everyone - British command, British intelligence, all non imperialist Britons, all Americans, all Orientals. It's an extremist tract that is quite horrifying in its one sided nastiness. Here's the catch - it was written at the instigation of an "Australian" who is the "only person" to "stop the rot". We can't be sure this was Bennett, but if it was, it's unedifying. Throughout his career, Bennett seems to have believed that his views, and no one else's, counted.

      As for the statement that "very few legal or military experts would agree with" the conclusion of the Royal Commission, this too needs to be examined other than at face value. Were the Commissioners fools ? Who said this originally, and on what evidence ?

      Given the complexity of the situation, and the capacity for manipulation, I suspect we should be very careful how we interpret the affair, and take nothing for granted. Oh, to read the sources themselves !

      Thank you Janet Uhr for the references you gave - now to try and get the books ! I started this question as a short cut to save myself work, and oh boy, have we stumbled on a big issue.

      Ron - >Stuart, I can see why some people do not like the book, but a letter as quoted is a letter, no matter what people think of the author of the book.
      Not quoting from other parts of Peter Elphick's was intentional, because of its inflammatory suggestions about the AIF.
      This is about Bennett and a letter about him, from his commanding officer, should be viewed as it stands. This does portray them as having a distinct distance, this went further then a difference of opinion, as officers, they were miles apart.

      Noel Barber in 'Sinister Twilight' talks of the controversy over Bennett's escape with the question, "What was all the fuss about, isn't it every officers duty to escape"
      Barber then goes on to balance the scales with the other side of the argument. Bennett had already organised his own escape when he stopped his own officers escape plans with, "To allow any large-scale unorganised attempts to escape would result in confusion and slaughter".
      He then issued an order that all Australian units were to remain at their posts until 8.30 the following morning then followed it by, "All precautions must be taken to ensure the spirit of the ceasefire is not destroyed by foolish action".
      He then ordered two days rations to be distributed to the troops before heading to the docks to escape.

      A copy of that order was used after the war, this helped to discredit Bennett.

      Stuart - >Ron, Yes no prob with the letter, exactly as you say. It's Elphick's stuff I was concerned about, for others.

      Happy Christmas to everyone!

      Ross - I came across a discussion on this matter on the website and was prompted to write a reply.

      >As for the statement "When the war ended, Percival, released from
      >captivity, sent a letter to Blamey accusing Bennett of relinquishing
      >his command without permission. Instead of just tearing it up,
      >Blamey convened a court of enquiry" . Percival was the commander of
      >the entire Singapore campaign and was
      >absolutely entitled to make a report - who on earth would suggest
      >that his report be "torn up" ? This isappalling - were these
      >Bennetts' words ? If it was it says a lot about his sense of ethics.
      >Percival was entitled to an opinion.

      This is what prompted me to write. The appalling words are, I'm afraid, mine. It wasn't a report that Percival sent but a letter of complaint.

      >As for the statement that "very few legal or military experts would
      >agree with" the conclusion of the Royal Commission, this too needs
      >to be examined other than at face value. Were the Commissioners
      >fools ? Who said this originally, and on what evidence ?

      I refer you to the Wigmore, "The Japanese Thrust", pp. 651-652

      The legal issue boils down to this: When do you become a prisoner of war? When you are given orders to surrender or when you are behind barbed wire?

      An unconditional surrender occurred at 2030 and Bennett escaped at 2200. The commission felt that he was not a prisoner until he was "behind the wire".

      If Bennett wasn't a prisoner of war, then what was his status? In other words, was he a deserter or a escapee? Lawyers have pointed out that if the Royal Commissioner's verdict, based upon International Law, was correct then a loophole exists whereby soldiers become illegal combatants, stripped of the rights of both prisoners and combatants, between when they surrender and when they are "behind the wire".

      Common sense says that your best chance to escape is right away rather than when you are "behind the wire".

      However, Australian Military Law is much clearer on the issue. Bennett was under no obligation to comply with Japanese orders (including the one not to escape). The enemy's legal authority is not recognised, nor was Percival's once he had surrendered. From this standpoint, Bennett was under no obligation whatsoever to remain.

      I doubt that this clears up anything.



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